Constructing an Artist Archive for the Future

by Maida Withers

"Laser Dance", performed by MWDCC in 1985. Photo by Rockne Krebs.
“Laser Dance”, performed by MWDCC in 1985. Photo by Rockne Krebs.

For the past 40 years I have created multidisciplinary works for stage, site-specific architectural and environment locations, and films that, I hope, forwarded and expanded artistic definitions of dance. This journey has made it possible to create a living archive for the public from a personal perspective. My hope is that the Maida Withers Dance Construction Company archive will stimulate memories while honoring all those who contributed to make the work possible. How this archives calls into question the future is yet to be seen.


The Clark Center Story: Sharing the Legacy of a Seminal Dance Community

by Jill Williams with Ramona Candy

Lenore Latimer, from Clark Center NYC archives
Lenore Latimer, from Clark Center NYC archives

There are some stories that need to be told. That’s how a few alumni from Clark Center for the Performing Arts felt about our stories: they are too important to the world of dance to disappear. Though Clark Center closed its doors 25 years ago, it continues to live in the hearts of all of the dancers, musicians, choreographers, and students who were a part of this important and unique dance community. The collective devotion to Clark Center is attested to by the willingness of the active alumni—a group that has now grown to over 600—who generously support our project, Clark Center NYC, by sharing memories through writing and through presentations, offering dance works for performances as well as volunteering time to work on the preservation of our legacy. The role of creative spaces such as Clark Center that nurtured many artists is an important piece of dance history, one that is too often overlooked. The aim of the Clark Center NYC project is to capture this communal history and lineage while honoring the individual artists whose stories are part of ours—and vice versa.


Why can I not tell my own story?

Ze’eva Cohen reflects on documenting a life in dance

Throughout my long life as dancer and choreographer I have been saving programs, reviews and videos of my own performances.  When video formats became obsolete, I transferred them to the next viable format- -so that videos made in the 70’s have been through as many as five conversions. Considering my incredibly busy life as dancer, choreographer, academic, mother and wife, the answer to the question of why I took the trouble and bore the expense to do this only became clear as I retired from my 40 years teaching at Princeton University and as my career as dancer and choreographer was winding down. It was then that I began to think seriously about leaving a legacy of my work, and decided to produce a documentary film of my life in dance based on materials preserved at home, and as told in my own voice.


Local Dance History Project

In 2010, Philadelphia Dance Projects (PDP) presented a revival of dance works originally performed in 1980 by composer Dan Martin and dancers/choreographers Michael Biello, Jano Cohen, Terry Fox, Wendy Hammarstrom, and Ishmael Houston-Jones. This reconstruction of work initiated a new endeavor called the Local Dance History Project, led by PDP executive director Terry Fox. LDHP is a collaborative effort with the artists to launch a website that shares Philadelphia’s dance history through images, videos, artist narratives, historical notes, and an interactive timeline that allows other local dance artists to join in on the discussion and share their work.

Learn more about LDHP and listen to an interview with PDP executive director Terry Fox.

Planning Artist-Driven Archives

“Planning Artist-Driven Archives” addresses the dance field’s need for a new vision of how its heritage can be preserved through the involvement of artists in developing their own models to document their legacies and creative processes.  The concept of artist-driven archives will shift the practice of archiving from an end-of-career process that consists of transferring materials to a repository where they are processed without input from the artist, to an ongoing, integral part of the creative process—a process that engages dance artists in developing more meaningful, individual, living ways to document their work and connect with their audiences. Rather than seeing archives as “dusty boxes” of old materials, this project will advance a vision of archives as a vital component of dance-making.

In November, 2013, the Dance Heritage Coalition convened three focus groups to explore aspects of the artist-driven archive concept. Participants including artists, archivists, and arts presenters shared and discussed case studies, experiences, ideas, questions, challenges, and visions. The meetings were built around three models framing different approaches to the goal of the artist-driven archive. The blogs presented here follow the same three models:

  • Archiving Artistic Legacy: how can artists creatively re-purpose or re-contextualize their legacy materials and envision their legacies through the construction of archives?
  • Documenting the Creative Process: how can archiving become part of the creative process, rather than merely documenting products? How can artists’ intentions, methods, and working process be captured and preserved?
  • Documenting Creative Spaces: how can arts producers and venues partner with artists to archive multiple creative legacies as well as their own institutional histories?

In spearheading this project, the Dance Heritage Coalition builds on experience working directly with dance artists and companies to organize and safeguard their archives and develop sustainable long-term plans for their legacies. “Planning Artist-Driven Archives” was first conceived by the Center for Creative Research (CCR), originally based at New York University under the directorship of Dana Whitco. It builds on ideas and inquiries developed by founding fellows of CCR, an artist-driven think tank and interdisciplinary research center. Several of the key founding members of CCR remain crucial contributors to “Planning Artist-Driven Archives.”

The documentation provided here is intended to catalyze field-wide discussion, and we invite submission of questions, comments, and ideas. One outcome of the project will be the creation of a cohort committed to an implementation plan for a larger, multi-year, inter-institutional archives initiative.

Advancing a vision of archives as a vital component of dance-making